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If you like Edward Albee's story, you might also like:
Sally Field,
Athol Fugard,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Jeremy Irons,
James Earl Jones,
Trevor Nunn,
Harold Prince,
Lloyd Richards,
Stephen Sondheim
and Wole Soyinka

Edward Albee can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Related Links:
Albee Foundation
Kennedy Center
Albee on Broadway

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Edward Albee
Edward Albee
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Edward Albee Interview (page: 5 / 6)

Three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama

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  Edward Albee

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With Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, you won widespread recognition. It was a commercial success as well as a critical success.

Edward Albee: And it was my first play that was any longer than 55 minutes.

How does that affect you?

Edward Albee: What? That it was any longer than 55 minutes?

No, celebrity.

Edward Albee: I'm not a celebrity. I don't think in those terms anyway.

I was delighted that people liked it. That's fine. But they liked The Zoo Story and An American Dream and The Death of Bessie Smith and The Sandbox also. They liked those too, but this was different. This was on Broadway, therefore it was meant to be a rival -- ridiculous attitudes like that. Commercial theater. You put up with that stuff.

You know, I've written -- what -- 28 plays now. I think the majority of them had their world premieres in small theaters. And of my 28 plays, maybe no more than half have been on Broadway. And, I don't care. Most Broadway theaters are too big. I would much prefer a 400-seat theater to a 900-seat theater anytime for my plays, which are basically chamber plays. And, I find the audiences -- the smaller the theater, the more alert the audiences are, and the younger they are, and the more intelligent they are. So, I'd be perfectly happy never to have another play on Broadway, except maybe you have a responsibility to hit those people, too.

In your line of work, what gives you, personally, your greatest sense of satisfaction?

Edward Albee: Not selling out. Not lying. Putting (my plays) down the way they want to be, and not compromising in production or casting or anything of that sort. I've been pretty much able to be my own person, which is nice. Maybe that was made fairly easy for me by the initial success of Virginia Woolf. There are all these pressures on you to sell out and do something different, but I've got a kind of orneriness to me: this is the play that I wrote, and this is damn well the play I want done.

Have you ever had to compromise?

Edward Albee: There were a couple of times where I wasn't happy in some of the casting that I had to put up with, but no.

I made one experiment. I said, "All right. Everybody tells me that this is a collaborative art." Something that I've never believed, by the way. It is a creative act, and then there are people who do it for you. With one play I said, "Okay. All these people think they're so bright. I will do whatever they want." Without changing the text. And, I put up with a lot of stuff that I didn't like very much, or didn't really approve of. It was a fiasco. And, if I'm going to have a fiasco, I want it to be on my terms. I like to take my own credit and my own blame because I can make as many mistakes as the next person, you know. But, I think my mistakes are more interesting.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

They are to me, anyway.

Looking back, what do you know about achievement now that you didn't know or understand when you were younger?

Edward Albee: I'm not even sure I was thinking in those terms when I was starting out. I'm not even sure that I think much about them now, either. But I think it's being able to do pretty well what you think is useful. That's basically it. Because all art has got to be useful. If it's merely decorative or escapist, it's a waste of time. You write whatever you write to try to make people behave the way you want them to behave, make them think the way you think they should be thinking. If they behave themselves, good; if they don't, tough! The achievement is holding on to that goal, I suppose.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by "useful?"

Edward Albee: All art is useful because it tells us more about consciousness. It should engage us into thinking and re-evaluating, re-examining our values to find out whether the stuff we think we've been believing for 20 years still has any validity. Art's got to help us understand that values change. If we've stopped exploring the possibilities of our mind, then we're asleep, and why not just stay asleep? So, all art has got to be utilitarian and useful. That's one of the great things about African art. It's not made as art. It's utilitarian. It's made for religious, dance purposes. And, people who make it don't think of themselves, "Gee, I'm a great sculptor." No. They're making something useful. I think this is true with novels, plays, poems. I think basically all serious creative people feel the same way. Most of us are smart enough not to talk about it.

You talk about "values." There's a lot of talk about values in America today. What do you make of that?

Edward Albee: So many words get misused all the time. I don't think much about my values. I know what they are, if anybody pins me down.

I will do whatever I possibly can to save us from the forces of darkness that are trying to take over our democracy, and that I believe we are a slowly, peacefully evolving revolutionary society. That's what we were formed as by the merchant class, and that's why it should be a peacefully evolving society. I try to keep us awake to the fact that democracy demands informed voting, and that democracy is fragile. And, if we don't stay on top of things we'll get what we deserve -- as we seem to be doing right now.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

And I do think that all art is fundamentally political, in the large philosophical sense.

Would you say that in your work there is a message?

Edward Albee: Probably. I hope there are a bunch of them. Participate in your own life -- fully. Don't sink back into that which is easy and safe. You're alive only once, as far as we know, and what could be worse than getting to the end of your life and realizing you hadn't lived it?

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This page last revised on Apr 11, 2008 15:25 EST
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